By Mara Certic
Members of the East Hampton Town Board agreed to bring a new draft of legislation restricting formula businesses in historic districts to public hearing during a Tuesday morning work session.
In response to a public hearing in April and letters received by the town board, changes have been made to the proposed legislation which simplifies the structure of the law, according to town Planning Director Marguerite Wolffsohn.
The law would aim to prohibit any establishment that falls under the definition of “formula business” in historic districts or within half a mile of any historic building.
In the previously proposed legislation, a formula business was described as any store or restaurant that was part of a chain of 10 or more, under common ownership or a franchise. In Tuesday’s work session, however, Ms. Wolffsohn explained that the law now will define a formula business as “one of 15 or more other businesses or establishments within the United States” meaning a corporation would have to have over a dozen other stores or restaurants of the same name to fall under the formula business definition.
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who is sponsoring the law, explained Tuesday afternoon that the change was made at the request of several people who believe that 10 stores worldwide was too restrictive and that it was too small a number.
The law also calls for new standards and safeguards before a special permit can be issued for a formula store in the neighborhood business and central business zones.
One of these standards insists that formula businesses be compatible with the existing and surrounding uses and be designed and operated in an unobtrusive manner to preserve the community’s unique historic character.
“It means it should blend in with the character of the community rather than a standard formula for all of the stores throughout the country. Except for of course what they’re selling. The business and its attributes should be those of East Hampton, rather than what’s around the country,” Ms. Wolffsohn explained.
Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc suggested that the board consider allowing special permits for formula businesses in waterfront zones, where the law previously prohibited them. “I wonder if the board might consider that that would also be allowed by special permit seeing as those types of uses already occur within a waterfront zone.” The other members of the town board agreed with the concept.
“Where we stand today, if you’re building a new building or if you’re making site improvements, there’s a site-plan review process but there’s no special permit requirement for formula businesses in today’s law,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said.
He added that he was unsure how much support the law would have when presented for a public hearing, but added that the standards would raise the bar of review and would employ a higher level of scrutiny, which he said “is the right thing to do.”
“I’m fairly comfortable with what’s been outlined here, and I think we should proceed to public hearing,” said Supervisor Cantwell.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said that the most important part of this legislation is that “it would require a special permit, which requires a public hearing, and the public has the right to weigh in on any proposal.”
A public hearing was suggested for Thursday, July 3, but may be postponed after Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez expressed concern that business owners might be too busy before the holiday weekend to voice their opinions on the newly amended law.